Coach Randy Wittman got tossed for arguing an offensive foul called on John Wall and within three minutes, the Wizards had scored 11 unanswered points against the Toronto Raptors, chopping a 17-point lead down to six on Tuesday night.
During the frantic, desperate run, the Wizards forced five turnovers and three missed shots, holding the Raptors without a field goal for the rest of the game. But Wall wasn’t ready to credit the ejection alone for the desperate run.
“What changed the momentum for us is when we went small,” Wall said after the Wizards lost, 103-93, to Toronto. “We went small and spaced the court.”
After Raptors all-star guard DeMar DeRozan made a free throw to put the Raptors up 99-82 with 4:39 remaining, Bradley Beal made a three-pointer then Wall stole the ball from his former Kentucky teammate Patrick Patterson and drew a foul. Wittman’s fill-in, assistant Don Newman, replaced Marcin Gortat with Martell Webster giving the Wizards a lineup that has rarely been used this season.
For most of the night, Ariza, Beal and Webster had been unusually passive when they got open looks, making it easier for the Raptors to trap Wall and limit his scoring opportunities in the second half. But when all three were on the floor together, Toronto had to respect the shooters, which opened up lanes for Wall to drive and kick and created better ball movement.
Through the first 52 games, Wittman had only gone with the quintet of Webster, Wall, Beal, Nene and Trevor Ariza for a total of 12 minutes in 11 games. In that small sample, that group got outscored 36-35. On Tuesday, it scored eight points in two minutes, getting within 99-93 before Garrett Temple replaced Beal. The Raptors finished the scoring with Kyle Lowry free throws.
Last season that lineup was also utilized for 27 minutes in 12 games, with the Wizards getting outscored 64-62, but Wall is in favor of utilizing small ball more often to break up the monotony.
“That would be a good thing to get to at certain times against certain teams,” Wall said. “I think the way they were going and spreading the court, Patrick Patterson doesn’t post up too much. He just spaces the court. We went small and got the opportunity to run a lot of pick-and-rolls, and if they helped we had a lot of shooters out there so that made it a lot easier. And we started trapping pick-and-rolls and doing certain things differently” on defense.
Wittman was excited about the versatility of his roster during training camp, with long, athletic players who could play multiple positions. The prolonged absence of Al Harrington, who has played just seven games, and the relative good health of Nene, who has missed just seven games, has led Wittman to lean more on the strengths of his roster and go with a traditional look with Nene and Gortat, or possibly Seraphin at the end of some games.
When asked why the Wizards haven’t gone small more often to provide a change of pace and an occasional energy boost, Wall replied, “I don’t know. That’s all coach’s decision there. That’s not really mine. I know we usually do that in the past and we play pretty good when it’s like that. Coach has his decisions and we feel comfortable with the decisions he makes. The players that’s out there just got to go out there and do their job.”
Harrington completed his first full practice since having right knee surgery on Monday and Wittman said the 16-year veteran is “getting closer” to a return. Having a 6-foot-9 shooter could warrant some more experimentation with lineups. But Wall admitted that he thought the Wizards would’ve gone small more often this season.
“You definitely think about that,” Wall said. “You don’t want to always look back to last season because this is a different team. A different year,” Wall said. “But we had a lot of success with that at times. Sometimes he feels like it might not work. Those are the decisions he makes.”